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Memphis Klan Group Issues Threats, Met By Violence

Another Klan rally ends in violence, this time in Memphis due to a scuffle between counter-protesters and police.

Once again, a Klan rally has erupted into violence.

On the January weekend of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the nation's most aggressive Klan group, held a rally in Memphis, the city where King was slain three decades ago. Before it was over, a scuffle broke out between counter-demonstrators and police, and tear gas was fired into the crowd.

More than 20 counter-demonstrators were arrested. Police blamed gang members in the crows for inciting the violence, while some community leaders said police overreacted.

Whatever the truth, American Knights leaders, who habitually make virulently racist speeches and threats, have a track record of inspiring violence.

In Asheville, N.C., counter-demonstrators threw rocks at 29 American Knights who came to demonstrate in October, injuring at least one person. In June 1996, an enraged crowd in Ann Arbor, Mich., attacked Klan supporters and police, resulting in six arrests. Klan leaders have apparently reveled in the publicity over these and other clashes.

They have also sounded ominous threats.

In Asheville, Exalted Cyclops Robert Moore warned that his men would be armed at a second rally planned for May. He said that if rocks were thrown there would be "another Greensboro" — a reference to the 1979 murder of five anti-Klan demonstrators.

Later, Moore said his Klansmen would open fire on counter-demonstrators if a single rock were thrown, "and God forbid if there's any children there."

Experts say the best way to deal with hate group rallies is to organize alternative, community-building events at other locations. That advice was not followed in Asheville and Memphis, and the publicity-hungry Klan may have won out as a result.